What If? Exercise #32

I actually wrote this stuff yesterday, but didn’t get around to posting them. The first part is another What If? exercise and the second is a scene from a story that I’m working on. It’s probably going to turn into at least a novella. Boo. I want things to get done, dude.

In a few sentences, create a specific character in a specific situation. Complicate his life with opposing forces and alternatives within that situation. Ask, Given the situation, what would my character want? What would my character do? How would he act or react? How will those actions propel the story toward a point of crisis and a final resolution? Then, do a brief mini-plot.

Connely is a 22-year-old man/boy from Michigan who has moved to New York three months ago. He is a musician, plays an unusual instrument. Maybe a ukelele. No, a banjo. He’s a songwriter, too. He was working at a bar, but the person he replaced moved back to town and Conley got laid off. He has to pay security and a month’s rent, not to mention, eat. His small savings is dwindling. Then he gets a call from his last friend with benefits from Michigan: she’s pregnant and insists that it’s his. She’s told her parents who support her decision to terminate the pregnancy. He’s told his parents who are very pro-life and very against “murdering” their grandchild. His parents called the girl’s parents and now, when he’s getting leads on a few jobs, all the folks agree that he should come back to discuss the situation or at least be there for the abortion. His parents make him pay for the ticket. “It should be a one-way, Connely,” his father says.

  1. getting off the plane in Detroit, all the parents and the girl are there
    1. description of his landing and the airport
    2. brief description of the parents and the differences between them
    3. long description of the girl
      1. maybe a flashback to the last night they spent together
        1. Segue into “the night that had conceived the baby growing inside her belly, making it big and swollen. It used to be her belly went concave if she was lying down.” something
  2. Dinner at his house
    1. conversation that changes nothing, girl is going to have an abortion
    2. her parents leave, she stays so they can spend some time together
      1. drive around in his old car
        1. drive out to their old spot, he starts to offer her some weed and then thinks better of it and she’s like, We’re not keeping it, what does it matter? And he’s like, You don’t have to have the abortion. She’s like, This is gonna ruin our lives. Go back to NYC.
  3. At the clinic, afterwards
    1. the two of them alone, she’s really depressed and regretful. I should have listened to you. And he’s like I can stay here and help you get over the whole thing. And she’s like, Go back to NYC. I can’t get over it ever. I can’t get over it if I ever see your face again.
  4. He doesn’t have enough money so he drives his car back to NYC. I guess the drive home will be the end. At least that’s as far as I can get right now.

I’m realizing now that I’m posting this that I didn’t really answer the question “What does Connely want?” I think he wants to live in New York City and become a world-famous musician, but more than that he wants to be a good guy who does his parents proud even if he doesn’t agree with their point of view on life. He doesn’t want a kid, but he doesn’t want to be a deadbeat dad. It’s hard to give a character one goal, but it does make things clearer for the reader. Opposing goals are good, though, so there are internal obstacles as well as external. I guess it’s hard to know when your character ought to be working for one goal or the other. Good stuff to struggle with.

Speaking of struggle, I’ve been grappling with this next piece since I last visited my parents down in Florida two years ago. We love each other, but my mom and I have a hard time getting along, mainly – in my opinion – because of the differences in our religious beliefs. She’s a Jehovah’s Witness and I am…not.

But I really enjoyed being with them; I just wished I could be there and not have to interact. It was that sentiment that led me to create a character, Brian, who could turn himself invisible in order to look over his mom. This becomes especially important when his dad dies and he has to go down to Florida to help his mom pack up the house – the one she and her husband moved into to retire. A problem arises when the house that Brian grew up in starts to invade the new house. Every day, Brian and his mom box up the family’s belongings and every morning they wake up to more and more of the old house’s stuff scattered about. Brian decides to stay up all night to figure out what’s going on. This scene’s placeholder name is “Ghost Dad.” And it’s not finished. And half of it is just my rambling to figure out what’s going to happen. Just a reminder – this blog shows the process and the process can be messy. Yay! or is it ‘Yea!’?

So Brian manages to stay awake and invisible. He’s sitting on the old half of the couch and then he sees his Dad come out of the bathroom – which is by now all the old house. Maybe there’s something in the story earlier about how much time his dad spent in the bathroom. I could use Becky Poole’s joke about how her dad would go into the bathroom with a copy of War and Peace and come out hours later with a passport and a tan. So the bathroom is established as being dad’s room. So he comes out in the bathroom in his old yellow sweatpants carrying a cardboard box. He goes from the bathroom into the kitchen. He pulls out items that have previously been mentioned as being important to the growth of their family. So he takes out some plate or platter or something that always used to be in the kitchen. He sets it on the counter and Brian watches the counter change from fancy marble to Formica. Formica spread like oil covering the green marble. Brian gets up to get a closer look. His dad puts a few dishes – maybe his McDonald’s Garfield things – into the cupboards and they change from new to old. He puts his coffee cup into the dishwasher and the dishwasher disappears, leaving behind doors to a cupboard. He opens one of the doors and pulls out his coffee cup. He sets it on the counter and surveys his work.

I un-disappeared myself.

I made myself visible again and said, “Dad?”

He spun around. His face was old and young at the same time, like the house. His hair was all gray like when he died, but he only had a mustache and not a beard like my first memories of him. But beyond that old and new mix, there was something ageless in his face now, so that no matter how many wrinkles he had, he couldn’t ever have looked old.

“Brian,” he said. He looked excited and bashful as if I’d just walked in on him while he was making a present for me. [As if I’d just walked in on a surprise party in the midst of its planning. Something.] “How long have you been out there?”

“All night.”

“I didn’t see you,” he said.

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “I can make myself invisible if I want.”

“Oh,” he said, as if he’d seen things in the afterlife that made my invisibility boring and mundane. “How long have you been able to do that?”

“Since the first time you were out on the road and you were late coming home,” I said. “I did it so I could watch over Mom.”

He nodded and smiled. “Thanks.”

I moved toward him. “Is that what you’re doing here?”

“I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing here,” he told me. “I haven’t been able to leave.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Since I died, I guess,” he said. “No, since the funeral. A little bit after the funeral.”The funeral had taken place in Michigan at the Kingdom Hall since that was the last place of worship my dad had gone to. [MAYBE THEY KNOW THIS ALREADY. THE READERS, I MEAN. “That pastor said some nice things about me.

“I think they’re called ‘elders,’ Dad, not pastors,” I said.

He shrugged and chuckled. “I could never keep track.”

“Have you been with Mom since you died?”

He shook his head. “I was with you guys at the funeral and I went back with you to your aunt’s place, but after you guys left, I ended up at the old house.”

“How’d you get here?”

“Well, that’s the thing,” he said. “I don’t think I’m really here.”

I opened my mouth to say something, but he stopped me.

“I know, I’m not really anywhere,” he laughed.

I was close to tears. “Dad.”

He crossed his arms and sighed. “I’m sorry, son. Death just isn’t as tragic on the other side.”

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